4 Quick Tips For Taking Better Travel Photos

Posted on Friday, February 18, 2011 - 7 Comments
Mercury's Winged Foot
Mercury’s Winged Foot

You’re in a new country, you’ve got your camera, there’s stuff everywhere. Now it’s time to capture some photos that your friends will enjoy seeing. Don’t screw it up. Here are some quick tips to help with that:

1.) Change Levels – Who says you need to be standing up to take a photo? Experiment with taking a knee, or lying down, or climbing up on something. Be especially cognizant of changing levels when shooting kids and animals, you should go down to their level. It will completely change the perspective of your photos.

The Joys of Ice Cream

2.) Buy the right camera for self-portraits – Often when traveling you will find yourself wanting to take a self-portrait or a shot of yourself and a friend. The right camera will make all the difference between a well composed shot and cutting someone’s head off. My choice for this type of shot is the Canon PowerShot G11 (They also have a G12 now!). This camera has a flip screen that can be opened and turned around so you can see what you are shooting while the lens is pointed at you!

My friend took the shot below with the G11. As you can see, it rocks. It has not been edited in any way. No photoshop, no cropping, no color balance, nothing. Not only that, it was the only one of these shots she took, not the best of a hundred. Why? Because with this camera she could see what she was doing and compose the shot perfectly before taking it. Wouldn’t you like to have some shots like this in your travel photo collection?

Amsterdam from Above
Above It All  (Vienna) (Photo: Adrienne Lusby)

I know, I know… at this point you probably think I work for Cannon. I don’t. Believe me, if they asked me to do a commercial for them, I wouldn’t say no. But seriously, I just love this camera. It also shoots RAW, so you can start exploring the world of HDR photography at a reasonable price.

Thailand Self-Portrait
Self-Portrait On A Boat (Thailand)

3.) Take Your Camera Off AutoFocus - Learn to use aperture  and shutter priority modes. Yes, this means reading at least a page or two in your manual. Trust me, it’s worth it. You’ll be surprised how fun and easy it is to shoot in modes other than automatic. My favorite mode is aperture priority and I use it about 80% of the time. It gives me more control over my photos and I like that.

Sumo Procession

4.) Know When To Put The Camera Down – You are on vacation!!! You need to be IN THE MOMENT to truly enjoy the beauty of where you are. Unless you are an amazing photographer, the sunset you are trying to get on your point and shoot is not going to look anything like it looked in person so be there and experience it. Also, keep in mind, NO ONE needs to see any more photos of you and your friends drinking in a bar, so just enjoy yourself, have some good conversations, meet some new people, embarrass yourself trying to speak the native language, drink too much, whatever, just step away from the camera.

Bonus Tip:

CATS – Cats?! Yes, cats. Cats make good subjects. They’re cute as hell, they make funny faces and when they talk back it’s adorable.

A Nice Place for a Nap
Kawaii Fangs
What?! You’ve Never Run Out of Dental Floss Before?
Surveying My Domain
Barn Cat (Santa Fe, NM)
Cat Friends
Enough With The Flash Already

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  1. I think #4 is most important! I couldn’t believe the number of people I’ve seen on trips taking pictures of everything and spending 90% of their time looking through a lens. Are they disappointed when they get home and realize they were standing infront of something beautiful and only saw it through a lens, didn’t take the time to really see it and experience it? Also, amazed by the number of people who took all their pictures on their phones! Camera phones have come a long way but still don’t compare.

    1. Chris,

      I can’t agree more that the best way to experience a place is by being in the moment. I used to hardly take any photos as I never wanted to be one of those folks stuck to their camera lens, but I now I believe there is a happy medium. Often, when I get to a city I will set aside a few hours to go on a photo safari and then taking photos is an activity instead of just documenting every little thing I do or see.
      I also try to have my camera with me most of the time for those spontaneous moments that come up. The Japanese man with the cat on his lap was one of those occasions. I would have been bummed if I didn’t have my camera that time.

      I would never want my phone camera to be my main way of taking photos, but as a back-up I’ve found I can get some pretty cool photos with it. Obviously, what you can do is somewhat limited, but sometimes I find restrictions are good. I do like the Hipstamatic app for the iPhone.

  2. Thanks for this post, Algis! I’m a big fan of our new Canon also, but it is a little intimidating. I’ll have to check out the modes that you’re talking about – also, need to dive into the world of RAW – sounds very manly : ) Feel free to post any more shooting tips that you can think of!
    P.S. Some of our best honeymoon pictures were of French cats!

    1. Patrick,

      I’m glad you liked the post. I will be posting about photography at least once a month. At some point I will write more in depth about the modes, but for now think about using shutter priority when you are taking action shots and aperture priority when you are concerned with depth of field. Have fun with it, you’ll learn quickly!

      That’s awesome that you got great photos of French cats! A lot of my cat photos are of Japanese cats. I like to joke that I want to move to Japan and get a Japanese cat as if they are somehow different than American cats.

  3. Thanks for the great camera tip – I need a new camera and know NOTHING about them! Bell (Em’s big sister)

  4. Algusu! Nice photography mate. Also had fun reading your manifesto about freedom and living it the max. Im’ curious to read more about the marathon, as well as your LA street food article — and mostly, I am just ready to get back to Japan! And hang out there and other venues in the world with you —

    So ja mata for now – got to get to work, but enjoy my friend, will be joining you soon in the globe-trotting arena and good eats.

    Your pal,


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Hi, I’m Algis


I have an insatiable wanderlust which takes me to some crazy places where I try strange foods, pretend I'm a local and talk with elephants. Keep reading...

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